Too busy.

That is the modern-day mantra when it comes to reasons why people don’t join Rotary, Lions, Elks, Sertoma, Optimists,  or any of the other service organizations that have for decades been the lifeblood of many communities. Many service clubs are losing members. Some have even had to shut down.

Jonathan Isler, assistant professor of sociology at the University of Illinois Springfield, says he believes people are as committed as ever, but community service has taken different forms.

“People are still doing social things and are engaged and community-oriented,” Isler says. “They’re not more selfish or more narcissistic, but there’s this kind of rallying-around-the-wagons mentality in which people want to take care of family and friends first.”

David Parsons of Springfield is busy, too, but he still finds benefits from his involvement in Rotary International.

As CEO of the Central Illinois Community Blood Center, Parsons oversees getting blood supplies to 19 hospitals in central and southwestern Illinois. There are blood collection drives, volunteers, donors, employees, budgeting and education programs to coordinate. He doesn’t do it all by himself, but the buck stops with him.

As of July 1, Parsons will be even busier. On that date, Parsons becomes governor of Rotary District 6460. During his one-year term, he will oversee Rotary clubs in a district that runs from Madison County to Sangamon County and from Kewanee to the Missouri border.

One of his goals will be to convince more people they aren’t really too busy. The district wants to increase its membership by 10 percent this year.

Part of the personal satisfaction Parson finds in his Rotary membership is “knowing that, no matter how small, you had a hand in helping someone.”

Parsons became involved in Rotary in the 1980s, when he lived in North Carolina.

“Frankly, I didn’t know that much about it then,” he said. “I started learning about it and became intrigued with what Rotary could do.”

That includes everything from helping to eradicate polio in the 1950s to promoting world peace today. In Springfield, Rotary sponsored the “Hats Off To Mr. Lincoln” project, in which artists created replicas of Lincoln’s stovepipe hat. The replicas were scattered throughout downtown Springfield last summer. Rotarians’ charitable work supports a huge variety of projects both here and internationally.

“Rotary is just a phenomenal organization,” he says. “It has big, hairy goals. One of them is actually world peace. There are six universities across the world, one in the United States, where we train scholars in what are called world peace centers.”

After Parsons moved to Springfield five years ago, he transferred his membership to the local Rotary. Actually, there are five clubs in Springfield — Rotary Club of Springfield (the original, organized in 1913), Midtown Rotary Club of Springfield, Springfield South, Springfield Sunrise and Springfield Westside.

Having five clubs is a good indicator that interest remains high in Springfield.

“It’s a hotbed there,” says current district governor Larry Thompson.

Parsons is the third district governor from Springfield — Bob Stuart and Rod Buffington both served in that capacity. In addition, Stuart was an international director for Rotary.

Parsons sympathizes with people who just don’t think they can fit one more thing into their lives — especially parents who are involved with their children’s school and athletic activities.

“The lack of time, that’s legitimate for some people,” Parsons says. “They just can’t do anything extra. For me, I think you can always find the time do one more thing and to do it well.

“With something like Rotary, you are doing more than one thing. By doing it well, the impact can be phenomenal.”

Dave Bakke can be reached at 788-1541 or dave.bakke@sj-r.com.

Loss of Auburn Rotary still affects ex-member

AUBURN -- Just about 10 years ago, Tom Walker had to perform a distasteful task.

He stood up at a meeting of the Auburn Rotary and made a motion to disband the club. The motion passed. After 63 years, the Auburn Rotary Club was no more.

At 63 years old himself, Walker was one of the youngest members at that meeting. That was one problem. The other was that only 10 people ever came to meetings. They had tried to boost membership, including putting an ad in the local newspaper soliciting new members. Nothing worked.

“Disbanding was a terribly hard thing to do,” Walker told The State Journal-Register then. “I almost had some tears when I made the motion. The sadness is because of the older fellas who started the club in 1937. I heard a catch in one voice when we talked about it.”

Tom, who is now 73, still lives in Auburn, and he misses that Rotary Club. It never came back.

“Oh yeah. I enjoyed Rotary,” Walker says. “I especially enjoyed the one international convention I got to go to in Indianapolis.”

After Auburn’s club disbanded, Walker attended a couple of meetings at the Virden Rotary, but didn’t join. It wasn’t the same. The Auburn members had known each other for so long that those friendships had become part of the experience for him. 

Strangely, three of the Auburn Rotary club’s charter members died within a year after the club folded. Walker thinks those men lost a lot of life’s enjoyment when they couldn’t go to Rotary anymore.  “They weren’t able to do anything, like go to the dinners and all our activities that we did,” he says.  Tom stays active as a substitute teacher for the Auburn School District.

The school district found another sponsor for the dinners the Rotary used to sponsor for Auburn High School athletes, cheerleaders and scholars, and life went on.

 -- Dave Bakke

Rotary
Rotary International is the world’s first service club organization, with more than 1.2 million members in 33,000 clubs worldwide. There are 368,000 members in the United States.  Find a local club online at
www.rotary.org. Use the contact information for that club or fill out a form on the Web site and the club will get in touch with you